Monday, March 9, 2015

Crisis politics

This is from Vincent Ostrom's The Intellectual Crisis in Public Administration (3rd edition p. 110):

"Measures taken to solve problems by the rhetoric of warfare and crisis politics will exacerbate rather than alleviate many problems. Performance will radically diverge from expectations, and the illusion of perpetual crisis will permeate public affairs. If the illusion gives way to skepticism, the credibility gap will become an institutionalized feature of American public life. The rhetoric of warfare, crisis politics, and credibility gaps are unfortunate ingredients in the public life of people living in a potentially dangerous world. The rhetoric of crisis, like the cry of "wolf", will not be heeded if frequently used in inappropriate circumstances."

I think that we have reached this unfortunate point in American politics. Every social ill or foreign concern is described as a crisis of "epic proportions", "the issue of our time", etc. It is difficult to maintain a sense of perspective when pretentious politicians exaggerate nearly every situation they confront.

War and armed conflict are especially effective when it comes to enacting policies that erode liberty in the long run. As Alexander Hamilton noted in Federalist 8:

"Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident in war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security in institutions which have the tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length will become willing to run the risk of being less free."

It is not surprising that most government overreach has occurred during times of war. Something to be mindful of the next time the president proposes policies during a time of crisis.

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